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Alaska News

Military provides the muscle for Newtok move

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published July 24, 2009

A U.S. Army landing craft has arrived in Western Alaska to help the eroding village of Newtok relocate.

The gray, 174-foot LCU, or landing craft utility, slid onto the shore outside the village of Toksook Bay a couple of days ago, residents there said Tuesday.

It's unloading heavy equipment and other materials at Toksook Bay, which is about 38 miles southwest of Newtok.

The unloading effort is designed to lighten the craft's load so it will sit higher on the water as it heads up the shallow Ninglick River past Newtok and to the relocation site, said Mike Black, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

The craft will make multiple trips between Toksook Bay and the relocation site, known as Mertarvik, ferrying the materials a bit at a time, he said.

The LCU, which can carry 350 tons and a crew of 12, is carrying materials to set up a base camp for U.S. Marines, who will arrive next month, Black said.

It's the first boat Toksook Bay's Noah Lincoln has ever seen that can slide onto the shore and drop a gate on its bow so materials can be driven off, he said.

"They just went right up to the beach like high and dry," he said.

The Army, Marines and other military branches are providing personnel and heavy equipment for the next five years to help Newtok, population 350, relocate to Mertarvik about nine miles up the Ninglick, Black said.

The Ninglick has been cutting away shoreline and moving toward the village at about 70 feet a year, on average.

The proposed village sits higher than the old village, on a treeless tundra slope on Nelson Island. It's called Mertarvik, which means "getting water from the stream" in Yup'ik.

The military help is part of the Innovative Readiness Training program. Under the program, military personnel assist with civilian projects that offer military training opportunities.

Also, the Department of Transportation is clearing land and laying the foundation for a barge landing and staging area at Mertarvik, Black said. The $3 million landing will allow barges and other boats to easily unload materials while construction occurs in the coming years at Mertarvik.

It should be completed in early August and will be the first public project built at Mertarvik, Black said.

The military boat won't need the barge landing to unload, but other boats will in the future, he said.

Beginning next summer, the military plans to begin building a road from the barge landing to the town site. As part of a five-year commitment, the military also plans to help Newtok residents build an evacuation shelter and airport.

Black said the village may not be able to move to Mertarvik for several years. Using erosion trends, the U.S. Army Corps has predicted that Newtok has only eight years before major infrastructure is threatened.

Black couldn't say how much the move would ultimately cost. But, partly because of the military's help, the cost of rebuilding the village won't be anything close to the $180 million price tag predicted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

Stanley Tom, the Newtok resident who has led the relocation effort, said he didn't know what day the landing craft would arrive in Newtok.

He said posters in Yup'ik and English are being put up around Newtok declaring that the military landing craft is coming, so villagers won't be surprised, he said.

The IRT posters include a picture of the landing craft, a description of the military's plans and a note that military officials can provide training to villagers, including small engine repair.

Nutaraq ayagneq, the poster is titled in big letters -- Yup'ik for a new beginning.

By ALEX DeMARBAN

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